The Internet Never Forgets - How to Manage Your Reputation During a Social Media Crisis

The internet never forgets and screenshots truly never go away. This is why, as a business or individual, it is essential to have a plan in case of a social media misstep. You cannot just erase what happened, take back what an employee did or said, or delete what was posted, even if you would love to step back in time and pretend nothing ever happened. Businesses and brands have been ruined by one small mishandled internet snafu.

If you screw something up on social media, it is not the end of the world. I promise. You need to respond quickly and truthfully to mitigate any damage that has been done to your reputation.

You may not think it could happen to you, nor to your company, but sometimes one mis worded or misconstrued statement can create a social media crisis that gets completely out of hand. One of two things can happen: you can either manage it immediately and take control of it, (and may be even grow from it as a business), or you can try and cover it up and possibly destroy your business as the internet vigilantes come out to play, and believe me they will. Sometimes I think people wait for the latest social media drama to jump on.

Here are the first steps if you find yourself in social media crisis mode:

1) Don't try to cover the incident up and pretend it didn't happen. If you do try to cover up a post that was made, or delete photos or videos that were the issue, the internet will come at you in droves. They will send their friends, and every person who looks for social media drama will be on your page creating more. You do not want that. Not all publicity is good publicity.

{If you want to see what happens when you DO delete something - check out this tree farm's Facebook page. }


Berry's Tree Farm

2) If it is warranted - apologize, and apologize immediately. Make sure this apology is genuine. Don't make it about how people should not be so offended, or that you don't really think you should apologize, but you will anyway because people are demanding it. If an apology is done correctly and immediately, the public will actually rally around you, saying you addressed the situation immediately and took action. 

3) If you don't know if an apology is warranted, but there is definite internet buzz surrounding the incident and your company, make a statement saying: "We're looking in to it". Always acknowledge an incident if there is a growing internet discussion going on about it. People will be looking for information on what has occurred, and if they don't get information from you, they're going to get it from someone who probably doesn't have all the facts. 

4) Once you have all of the facts, create a canned response with truthful information about the event that you can cut and paste into any comment section. Always respond with objective facts. The thing that attracts people most to a social media crisis is drama.  That is why it is essential not to engage those who are trolling for a fight on purpose. Responding with facts and a canned response makes them go away faster.  Do not get distracted by negativity – it brings the entire conversation down. 

5) Take nothing personally. Every comment someone leaves is a reflection of what is going on in their own life. As soon as you take whatever they say to heart, you will start lashing out at the internet, and that will only make things worse. If you find yourself starting to take things personally, walk away from your computer and make someone else copy and paste your canned response.

THE most important thing to remember in all of this: people will make up information if they do not see something directly from the organization. A positive, on message, truthful response from your organization is essential to making sure false rumors are not created and spread.  People and news outlets will look to social media first for responses to events.  If there is no response, they'll comment on that.  If there is a response, and it is factual, to the point, and as positive as possible, that will help spread the truth. 

Understand that these events can be used as opportunities to create trust with viewers, potential advertisers, and current advertisers.  All responses to crises should be made with that in mind. Focus on positive engagement, regardless of response of outside players (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram users, etc) is essential.  

When a social media crisis occurs, breathe. The worst thing you can do is add fuel to the fire by immediately making a reactive and negative response. Social media crises always go away eventually, but their length is dependent on the quality of your interaction with the subjects involved. Negativity always prolongs something that should have gone away more quickly than it has.

Having trouble figuring out how to respond to a social media crisis, or looking to create a plan for yourself, your brand or your company? Contact me for objective advice on creating a social media crisis communication plan - or advice on how to deal with a current one. I also host seminars on Social Media Reputation Management.